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American Robin Migration Update: March 23, 1999

Today's Report Includes:

Robins Heading North!

American Robin Sightings

Robins overwintered in many northern places in the US and Canada, but most people away from open water on lakes, rivers, or coasts didn't get a chance to see or enjoy them. In the past few weeks, robins have been appearing in more and more places. American Robin Sighting Data

  • 2nd Grader Stephen at Annapolis East Elementary School in Middleton, Nova Scotia, observed robins pulling worms out of the ground.
  • In Blackwood, NJ, Karen has seen earthworms in her mulch pile and robins feeding on her lawn.
  • Walking to church Sunday morning (March 21, 1999) several 5th graders at Longfellow Elementary School in Great Falls, MT, reported seeing "mature robins running around lawns looking for eats. We are all very excited to finally see what we've been waiting for so long."
  • In Spring Arbor, Michigan, 5th grader Jordan saw a flock of about 100. "I saw them in a field standing on the ground." That certainly qualifies as a WAVE of robin migration!
  • Even a mild winter can get a little long. In Logan, Iowa, 3rd grader Shelbie got excited when she saw her first robin of the season. "I thought WOW! The robin was very beautiful."

Spring in the Desert
Spring doesn't necessarily arrive in the south first. Las Vegas, Nevada, is very far south (36.13N, -115.304), but spring is taking its time to arrive there. One Las Vegas teacher wrote on March 12, 1999, "Saw my first robin today. This seems, to me, to be a late date for returning robins, but in Las Vegas we have had a very cold, windy spring, unusually cold. The robins love to eat the berries of my pyracantha bushes. The pyracantha belongs to the rose family--so the
robins are eating 'rose hips'!! The red berries of the pyracantha are the robins' favorite food in my yard and when more robins get here, they will strip the plants of last year's red berries and also make a royal mess in my yard and on my sidewalk. But I am glad to see the robins are beginning to come back--perhaps we will finally see spring on the Mojave Desert."

The word "cold" means something a little different in the Mojave Desert than in Homer, Alaska! Which brings us to

Challenge Question # 10
"What climatological condition might be more important than temperature for robins returning to Las Vegas?"

(To respond to this week's Challenge Question, see below.)

First Females Arriving!

Report the first Robin you HEAR singing this spring to Journey North!

Report the first robin WAVE (a flock of three or more) that you see to Journey North!

Fifth grader Jordan in Senecaville, Ohio, writes, "We have a one-square mile area under observation for amphibian habitat, and saw the robins while on a walking inspection. We saw five males and only one female. The males were spread out about 100 yards from one another. The female was with one of the males. The males were defining the limits of their territory. One of the males moved farther off as the first male sang."

Female robins are the same size as males, but they are slightly more softly colored. Let us know when the first females arrive in your area! Report your first female robin and your first wave of robins under "Robins (OTHER observations)."

Northern Observation Posts

News from Northern Observation Posts
These are the Journey North Observation Posts:

  1. Peace River, Alberta: (56.25N -117.28W)
  2. Madoc, Ontario (44.51N -77.47W)
  3. Anchorage, Alaska (61.22N -149.90W)
  4. Haines, Alaska (59.24N -135.43W)
  5. Soldatna, Alaska (60.46N -151.20W)
  6. Calgary, Alberta (51.02N, -114.05W)
  7. Sterling, Alaska (60.52N -150.80W)

Eileen Conroy reports from Madoc, Ontario:
March 22, 1999
"Dear Journey North:

"There have been many sightings of robins this winter in eastern a matter of fact, it doesn't seem as though they really left! Saturday, March 20 we saw three male robins arguing over territory in the yard...yesterday, however, we received almost 20cm of very wet snow which has now re-covered everything in a blanket of white.

Listen to the Chickadee's Song
Wait for download; 470 K file.
Recording Courtesy of
Lang Elliott

"The tulips and other spring flowers are up in the garden alongside the house. The chickadees are singing their spring song. We are tapping 50 maple trees this spring- and we have boiled down 2.5 litres of syrup so far! There are thousands of hornets on the snow- I've never seen anything like this before! They have been out on sunny days several times during the past three weeks...there are literally thousands of them! My honey bees are still sleeping. There are moths flying around in the sunny places, and many, many flies which come out of nowhere whenever the sun it out. There are flocks of Canada geese gathering at open water and we have seen them pairing off and seeking possible nesting sites."

Mike Sterling reports from near Anchorage:
March 23, 1999
"Dear Journey North:

"There are no earthworms in sight. Any robin antsy enough to try to come up here right now would have to eat snow. The temperature hit 40 yesterday down in town, but believe me, it only reflected off a LOT of snow!"

Mike sends us some sadder news, too:

"Last Monday and Tuesday we got 26 inches of snow at my house. Alyeska Resort, the big ski area outside of Anchorage, had an avalanche that hit two people. The elementary school in Girdwood has been closed for the last two days due to a snow load that caused structural damage. This weekend a terrible avalanche engulfed a popular snowmachining area and the death count could approach ten. "

Challenge Question # 11:
"When will the first robins return to the remaining Northern Observation Posts?"

(To respond to this week's Challenge Question, see below.)

Discussion of Challenge Question # 9: We asked, "What do earthworms eat? Why don't robins simply eat the worm food themselves, avoiding the 'middle man.?'"

Earthworms eat dirt. They live in moist soil rich in organic matter such as decaying leaves and other plant material. But even very rich soil is mostly minerals and other non-digestible matter. Worms don't have to move fast or fly. Worm stomachs and intestines take up most of their bodies! They fill up their long digestive system with dirt and slowly digest the nutrients. They eliminate "castings" of all the undigestible parts of the soil. Worms lead such slow, sluggish lives that some live longer than ten years!

Robins and other birds must keep their bodies as light as possible for flight. So they are very selective in their food choices. They select items that are high in protein, natural sugars, and fats. Robins would have to eat a LOT of dirt and have enormous, heavy stomachs and intestines to digest soil--that would make it impossible to fly! That's why they eat worms rather than worm food.

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question

Answer only one Challenge Question in each e-mail.
1. Address an e-mail message to:
2.In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #10 OR Challenge Question #11).
3. In the body of your message, answer the question.

The next Robin Migration Update will be posted Tuesday, April 6, 1999.

Copyright 1999 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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